Thursday, May 4, 2017

Our Murder Weapon

“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” - Neitzsche

Today's post focuses on the recent Waking up podcast by Sam Harris, #73 Forbidden Knowledge:

The Bell Curve

In the podcast, Sam Harris interviews Charles Murray, the author of the Bell Curve. The Bell Curve is one of the most controversial books of the past 50 years. The books deals with the growing importance of IQ and the partitioning of our society with the upper end consisting of an elite class of high IQ people who are isolated from the rest of society.

The Bell Curve was and still is controversial because, while not focused on race, it did address racial IQ disparities in a small section of the book, which is a taboo subject for many people in the US particularly for those on the left.

This controversy recently flared up again at Middlebury College where Charles Murray was invited to speak. Left wing protesters shut down the talk and ended up assaulting Murray and a Middlebury professor who was assigned to be at the lecture.

Sam Harris had his own run in with political correctness recently when Ben Affleck labeled him a racist for criticizing Islam (Yes, I know, Islam is not a race). This led him to question the vilification that Charles Murray had undergone for years after publishing the Bell Curve.

Thesis of the Curve

Charles Murray points out that his main thesis of the Bell Curve and his later work, Coming apart has nothing to do with race. His basis thesis boils down to several things:

  • The future is being shaped by the radical increase in the valuation of IQ (basic intelligence).
  • Our educational system is increasingly effective isolating and pulling intellectual talent into elite universities.
  • This high valuation and ability to isolate has created a cognitive elite that is increasingly powerful, affluent, culturally different and increasingly isolated from and ignorant of the rest of society.
Bell Curve Summary

While the Bell Curve has been demonized for delving into IQ differences between various races, it actually does not focus much on that topic.

  • The first 3 or 4 chapters focus on the nature of the cognitive elite and how it came about.
  • The next 8 chapters deal with the relationship between IQ and various socioeconomic factors such as:
    • Unemployment
    • Poverty
    • Educational Attainment
    • Crime
These initial chapters were restricted to non Latino whites to specifically avoid the heated issue of race. From there, the book addressed the nation as a whole and, from there, it briefly addressed race and IQ, which created the controversy surrounding the book.

Reality of G

Charles Murray asserts that in the decades after publication of the Bell Curve that the reality of g (broad mental capacity measured by cognitive tests) has had even more validation:

Grey vs White Matter

MIT Technology Review - Brain Images Reveal the Secret to Higher IQ, The integrity of neural wiring is a big factor in determining intelligence. It’s also inheritable.

New research suggests that the layer of insulation coating neural wiring in the brain plays a critical role in determining intelligence. In addition, the quality of this insulation appears to be largely genetically determined, providing further support for the idea that IQ is partly inherited

Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) - Study offers first genetic analysis of people with extremely high intelligence

The first ever genetic analysis of people with extremely high intelligence has revealed small but important genetic differences between some of the brightest people in the United States and the general population.

SNPs have been shown to be related to social behavior and mental function. Until fairly recently, we only knew of a handful of these relationships but our knowledge has rapidly increased this into the thousands.

In terms of science, it has further strengthened the points made in the Bell Curve, not overturned them.

IQ and Outcomes

Murray also points to studies conducted by people like Christopher Winship of Harvard that have confirmed the independent role of IQ on societal outcomes. This has been verified by sibling studies which offer a fixed effects analysis method of studying this since siblings with differing IQs are raised in an identical environment:

Meng Hu Blog - Income Inequality and IQ, by Charles Murray


The ideas surrounding G (general intelligence) are not new. They were initially developed around the turn of the last century by Charles Spearman. Spearman noticed that tests seemed to be clustering on something which was latter termed IQ. You may have better skills in one area of intelligence (reading vs math) but, in general, if you score above average in one area, you tend to score above in the other.

The Heaviness of IQ

Murray does agree that IQ is not the only factor in determining success. He mentions Steven Goldberg, a retired sociologist from City College NY, who said that IQ has the same role as weight for an offensive lineman. You need a certain amount of it to be successful but you also need other attributes like grit (deterrmination).

Genetic Amplification of IQ

IQ is highly heritable, 50 to 80 percent. Surprisingly, it more heritable the older we get. This means that it play an ever greater role over environment as we age. - Genetics and intelligence differences: five special findings

 Intelligence is one of the most heritable behavioural traits. Here, we highlight five genetic findings that are special to intelligence differences and that have important implications for its genetic architecture and for gene-hunting expeditions. (i) The heritability of intelligence increases from about 20% in infancy to perhaps 80% in later adulthood. 

Nature not Nurture

As mentioned above sibling studies, have been used to confirm that IQ largely (but not exclusively) hereditary:

New Scientist - IQ is inherited, suggests twin study

Genes have a very strong influence over how certain parts of our brains develop, scientists in the US and Finland have found. And the parts most influenced are those that govern our cognitive ability. In short, you inherit your IQ.

Identical twins have identical genes, whereas fraternal twins sharing on average half their genes. The twins shared environments, means researchers can separate genetic and environmental factors.

While environment does play a factor, the role of environment decreases over time. Further, the role of environment is so complicated that we have yet to devise means of enriching environments that produce sustained IQ gains in children over time despite the vast amount of resources spent. Further, these efforts may actually be detrimental:

Washington Post - The big problem with early childhood education

Research in child development over decades as well as modern neuroscience clearly show that young children learn best when they are active. That means they get to put their hands on things, interact with other kids and adults, move a lot, create, play. But in the current school reform era, that’s not what is happening in too many classrooms. The emphasis is on “rigorous instruction,” and young children are forced to sit at their desks doing academic work — sometimes with little or no recess and/or sufficient physical education.

It is currently fashionable for some reason to believe that IQ related to environmental factors is good and that the piece correlated to genes is bad. This probably due to the feeling that we can fix environments but not genes. This is a false notion because the ability to increase IQ via environmental means is extremely difficult, particularly long term sustained gains. These mistaken beliefs have led to many failed policies that have had negative effects despite their good intentions.

The Big 5

A good example of the problems involved with manipulating humans via environmental factors can be shown in other areas besides IQ, areas like personality traits. The big five personality traits are:

  • extroversion
  • agreeableness
  • conscientiousness
  • neuroticism
  • openness
Like IQ, these are roughly 50% ascribed to environment. Environment can be divided into shared and non shared environments. The non shared environment plays a larger role in influencing the development of these traits and it is not something that we can readily manipulate. - Why are children in the same family so different from one another?

Lest the reader slip over these results, let us make explicit the implications of these findings: Upper middle-class brothers who attend the same school and whose parents take them to the same plays, sporting events, music lessons, and therapists, and use similar child rearing practices on them are little more similar in personality measures than they are to working class or farm boys, whose lives are totally different. Now, perhaps this is an exaggeration of the known facts, but not by much. Given the low correlations of biological siblings and the near zero correlations of adopted siblings, it is evident that most of the variance in personality arises in the environmental differences among siblings, not in the differences among families.

The Parent Myth

judith ridge harris wrote book on subject

The New Flat Earth Society

the left used to be boosterish towards iq
the SAT was invented for meritrocratic purposes
a way for kids for non exclusive backgrounds to get into ivy league schools
iq is a good way to indentify intellectual talent

The New Flat Earth Society

now ordinary people are comfortable with iq concepts
elites are uncomfortable, elites are flat earthers
iq test just test ability to take tests
cultural biased

Uncomfortable Truths

iq tests have predictive validity
for income, employment decisions
can test for bias
rate items for cultural loading
does SAT capture ability to do well in college
minorities do better on culturally loaded questions than purely abstract questions
there are systematic ways to interrogate the quality of tests
modern tests pass these with flying colors

now that the human genome has been
we can look at the subject in a whole new level
bluriness of race is noise in the signal
it will obscure differences not highlight them
if one says genese are not a componenet of IQ
then you need to prove that it is solely environmental
this is a high bar to prove

if genes and enviroment are a 50/50 split
if enviroment is caused by racial difference
then race would have to live in an environment

standard deviation then environment would need to be
1.5 below the mean
if you look at income, education, occupation, it does not make sense
it is not plausible

The Flynn Effect 

flynn effect
also identified by richard lynn in east asian tests
iq tests are renormed
iq scores have been gradually been rising
unknown why this is happening
is it a matter of increasing exposure to things what would help on iq tests
could also be partly an increase in g but probably not a lot

The Big Why?

why write book
important to recognize differences
cristina hoff summers education
the equality premise
that people only suffer adverse outcomes because of race or sexism has cause harm
problem with affirmative action
putting people in positions where they are set up to fail


social forces
higher education sucked intellectual talent from hinterlands and shuttled off to ivy league
intellectual talent more highly valued
plus natural human implulses
want to hang out with people like you
silicon valley
los angeles
seperation of classes worrisome
for a country like the us where

Preaching vs Practice

equality has always been valued
jonathan haight
deplorables comment
new elite class treats mainstream america with disdain and is isolated from it
new upper class in a lot of ways behave very well
belong to civic
because no code of values that they feel that they or others need to live up to
do not practice what they preach

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